CONNELLSVILLE — Nick Miller blazed through streets of South Connellsville and to the finish line at the track he once competed on in high school to win the 37th annual John Woodruff 5K Run and Walk on Wednesday evening.
Miller, a 2009 Connellsville Area High School graduate who won the Woodruff for the first time, finished eight seconds ahead of another Connellsville runner in Jesse Irwin. Miller broke the tape in 18:24. Dominic Prestipino placed third in 19:03 to give Connellsville a clean sweep in the top three of the running portion of the event.
The trio were in a group through the first mile before Miller and Irwin separated themselves from Prestipino. Miller took the lead for good in the last mile.
“We all know each other being local runners, but it felt good once I got inside the stadium and on the track,” Miller said. “This is the biggest race around here, it draws the biggest crowd and it has the best name for it. It is always nice to put a fast time down because it’s the Woodruff race and it deserves it. We knew it wasn’t going to be the fastest day today because it was so hot.”
Miller, who coaches middle school cross country and track & field at Connellsville, was glad to show his athletes that he still has it.
“It’s nice beating the young guys, too,” Miller said. “A lot of these guys I coach, so it’s kind of fun to see these kids racing. They always tell me that they are going to beat me. The course is tough and I think I have done this race about seven or eight times. A couple of years ago I was fourth, so I just missed the podium.”
Elizabeth Township’s Erika Suhy won the women’s run going away in 20:11. Scottdale’s Ally Wilson was second in 22:26 and Uniontown’s Wendy Moore placed third in 22:52.
“I have won this year two or three times before, I don’t even know,” Suhy said. “I usually finish in the top two or three in this race, but it usually depends on where I’m at in my training. The heat is a huge factor today. It is nice when you get to the stadium and it is nice to finish on the track, and it takes me back to my high school days.”
Bethesda, Ohio’s Sarah Donley won the women’s walk for the third year in a row with a time of 34:53. Waltersburg’s Tina Woodruff was second in 37:31 and Ruffs Dale’s Kaylee Doppelheuer was third in 38:37.
Woodruff’s husband is also named John Woodruff, and he also walked in the race, but there is no relation to the namesake of the event.
Donley races with Carl Kondrach, who was second in the overall men’s walk in 31:06.
“It is just tradition to come out here and race,” Donley said. “I think this race gets hotter each year. I really like hills, so the first part of the course is great for me.”
“We love the big trophies, the people and the free beer after at Bud Murphy’s,” Kondrach said. “We are a race-walking couple. She has won the last three years and I won the last two, but I got second this year. I am coming back from knee surgery. My friendly arch-rival got me easily this year.”
Glassport’s Lee Stough won the walk by 5:20 in 25:46. Youngwood’s Jason Lohr was third in 33:49.
“I have won this race a couple of times, but it has been a few years,” Stough said. “I was still recovering from an injury last year, but I did pretty well for my situation. I did a better time than I thought I would considering the weather.
“It is great to see more younger people taking up the sport, and I am hoping that we will all be competing with each other stride-for-stride, like I do with Carl (Kondrach), who is recovering from an injury. We are telling each other that next year it is going to be the real battle.”
The kids fun run is normally two times around the track, or 800 meters, to honor the 1936 Olympic Gold Medalist that the event is held for, but due to the extreme heat, it was limited to one lap or 400 meters.
Ellie Carei placed first overall and Leo Wallander was first for the boys.
Connellsville Area High School graduates Rachael Grimm and Bodee Stonebraker were the scholarship award winners. Grimm will attend the University of Pittsburgh to major in accounting while Stonebraker will attend Thiel College to study pre-physical therapy.
The race is held each year to honor Woodruff, who was born and raised in Connellsville before attending Pitt and winning gold in Berlin. There were 511 total participants in the run and walk. SERJ timing provided the results and John Riley and Bill Herrington were timers along the route.
Adolf Hitler provided each athlete a potted English oak sapling as a sign of good will, and of the 24 Americans to receive the gift, only six are known to exist in the United States, including the tree that Woodruff was provided. The tree stands at the track on the north end.